National Arts Festival: A British Perspective

Day five of the national arts festival turned out to be a bumper British one for Feast of Tales. First up was Kettling of the Voices. This documentary showed footage from the ‘other side’ of the student protests in 2010 against university fee increases, as well as the 1990 protests against the poll tax. ‘Kettling’ was the police response to the crowds – a technique that involves forcing large groups of people into a confined space and keeping them there for hours. Police actions aside, we found it fascinating to see that student protests against fees are not unique to South Africa. Next up was the brilliant Oxford Imps. This improvisation comedy troupe from Oxford university were outstanding in their skits that fed directly off the audience. Highly recommended. Our last show for the day was the very thought-provoking Those You Pass in the Street, an Irish piece about dealing with past conflicts in Ireland. Kabosh Theatre Company, responsible for this play, uses drama to help heal hurts from political conflicts – such a purposeful way of using the medium. Their play was intensely applicable to South Africa.

 

National Arts Festival: A Music Perspective

Music and imagination formed the most enjoyable part of day four in Grahamstown for A Feast of Tales. Our first encounter was Nefilibata which was a dance piece set to light, uplifting sounds. The ‘dancers’ were in fact musical theatre students who gave a delightful presentation of a love story using contemporary dance, mime, and props designed to look like clouds and birds. The Festival Gala Concert was our second. Conducted by the personable Richard Cock and played by the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, the well-attended performance delivered a variety of pieces that were explained by the conductor. So, we heard a piece to which the composer had, on its debut, invited women with the name (and variants of) ‘Anne’; another set composed by an Eastern Cape man in the midst of pain and sorrow; a concerto about a ‘gold and silver’ ball; chariots of fire; a piece called Mambozart; and beautiful compositions performed by the Standard Bank young performer of the year. All were designed to transport us listeners to a place of beauty and grandeur. Death of a Donut, while not exactly doing the latter, was nevertheless a fun murder mystery show – accompanied by suitably mysterious music – in which the audience was involved in the implication and solving of the murder. A number of school boys attending the performance were ecstatic when one of their teachers ‘died’ and the other ‘implicated’ in a murder. Women in Theatre, part of a Thinkfest, was definitely not musical, nor did it do much to stir the imagination. A little disappointed with its depth we left feeling that much more could have been made of the topic.

National Arts Festival: Day Three

Thinkfest was first up on A Feast of Tales’s agenda on day three of the NatArtsFest with a discussion on Gender Politics. The hour’s dialogue indicated that this rhetoric-laden topic still favours too much – well – dialogue and too little practical application. An over-aggressive approach also emerged as a problem. Number two on our schedule was the dialogue-heavy House of Truth in which actor, Sello Maake kaNcube, told the story of writer Can Themba and his struggles during apartheid to be recognised as a teacher. The drama had a good script but was depressing and failed to hold the audience’s attention for its overly long 90-minute duration. Hannah Arendt was another ‘struggle’ piece, though this time in the form of a movie. Like the Sophie Scholl film we saw on day two, Hannah Arendt presented a view of Nazi Germany somewhat different to what we were used to. In this story German-Jewish philosopher and author, Hannah Arendt, wrestled with the problem of evil, putting forward the – scandalous – ideas that German perpetrators of crimes in World War II may simply have failed to think and that Jewish victims may have been complicit in their own victimisation. Our day ended with the brilliantly executed The Echo of a Noise by Pieter Dirk-Uys, in which this renowned performer gave an autobiographical account of his life, revolving mostly around his combative relationship with his ‘Pa’. Rich, funny, tender and well-rounded, Uys’s performance was very deserving of its standing ovation.